Nurture vs. Nature and Gender Identity – A debate on naturalistic normaitivity

One of the debates that I have followed/been engaged in is whether gender differences are completely societal or are to some degree inherent.  I’ve engaged in debate on the subject several times, but mostly it is a conversation that I have read about in various books.  My main source on the subject is Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate.  Pinker wrote the book was because he wanted to argue against the notion that we are purely products of society.

I am generally sympathetic to Pinker’s case, but I’ve begun to question the stakes of the debate.  What is it that the two sides are actually arguing about?  There is a scientific argument that is underlying the conversation, but I’m not sure that is actually the centre of the controversy.  I’m inclined to think that the actual subject under debate is much more political.  It seems to me like the debate is often of competing naturalistic ethics.  On reflection though, it seems to me that knowing the facts of the matter here are of little assistance if one does not buy into naturalistic ethics.  Whether there are natural sex differences seems to have little bearing (to me) on the rightness or wrongness of most actions pertinent to the debate.  Should children be raised in gender neutral ways?  Is it wrong for society to treat genders differently?  Are gender-based norms (girls wear pink, boys wear blue, etc) harmful?  Whether the schism is pre- or post- society seems… not particularly pertinent to the morality of a lot of these questions.  That men or women are inclined towards acting in a certain way doesn’t make it right (or wrong) – the origins of different behavioral patterns do not seem particularly relevant to me in examining the way that we want people to act.

The two sides do have dramatically different repercussions for how we should go about achieving our ends through public policy, however I feel the debate is more frequently framed as an issue of what public policy should aim to achieve.

Let me know what you think,

CreativePhilo

via Blogger http://creative-philo.blogspot.com/2014/01/nurture-vs-nature-and-gender-identity.html

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10 thoughts on “Nurture vs. Nature and Gender Identity – A debate on naturalistic normaitivity

  1. By public policy do you mean violently imposed laws, regulations and taxes?

    Why not scrap legalised violence and theft by the state, parents or anybody else and then see what happens to gender in a world where violence and theft is not legal for anybody?

    • Would I be correct in interpreting your position in a libertarian one?

      I think that your statement is beyond the purview of this post, because you pick up where I left off – giving concrete policy recommendations. What you suggest seems to me to be one among many options that we can pursue to achieve our ends, depending on what we determine our ends to be (the way in which we can bring about those ends then becoming a matter in need of investigation). If I understand correctly you are proposing that eliminating government regulation would reduce violence AND you speculate that it would be interesting to see what happened to gender as well.

      • “…Would I be correct in interpreting your position in a libertarian one?…”

        I just object (both morally and practically) to people using coercion, theft and violence against other people. Don’t you?

        “…. you pick up where I left off – giving concrete policy recommendations..”

        Not at all. A policy recommendation (in the context of the state) is, by definition, an attempt to use coercion, theft and violence against other people…. or an attempt to advise others how to use coercion, theft and violence against other people (which amounts to the same thing).

        I wasn’t suggesting how other people should live their lives – nor do I wish initiate force against them to dictate how they live their lives, either directly by pointing guns at them, or via any third party agency of violence which points guns at them on my behalf.

        I just meant IF we want to understand what gender is we have to let gender express itself in a society which is not fundamentally dictated by coercion, theft and violence because these things have a huge influence on how we behave.

        For example a young woman today can choose to raise a child on her own with aid from the state (welfare, subsidised services etc), having chosen to kick out her boyfriend/ husband perhaps also taking half his wealth and denying him access to the child as much as he would wish.

        She might feel like she is living as a liberated, post feminist, ’empowered’ female but in reality her lifestyle is absolutely dependent on a bunch of male thugs armed with clubs, tasers and guns going around confiscating money from everyone else by force and giving it to her. These same thugs also keep her ex husband/ boyfriend away from her and their child. This is clearly not an independent woman. She is more dependent on men (and violent men at that) to support her lifestyle and give her resources than any traditional wife ever was.

        And without the coercive and violent state she would have to express her desires, ambitions and gender identity differently, perhaps by buying a gun and getting those resources for herself, or perhaps by negotiating with her boyfriend/ husband a bit more, or perhaps by being more careful about getting into relationships and getting pregnant in the first place.

        “…If I understand correctly you are proposing that eliminating government regulation would reduce violence AND you speculate that it would be interesting to see what happened to gender as well…”

        Not quite. ‘Eliminating government’ sounds like pitchforks and bricks thrown through windows.

        I’m just pointing out that if we stopped legitimising violent coercion that would eliminate government regulation. I’m just proposing IF we treated people in government as people (rather than as gods) this would mean they would be subject to the same moral rules as the rest of us are (rules that say that coercion, theft, assault, murder, torture, fraud etc are immoral and socially unacceptable ways to behave).

        ‘Government regulation’ is just a euphemism for coercion, violence and theft by government. And ‘government’ itself just means ‘a group of people who claim (and violently defend) the monopolistic legal right to initiate force against everyone else to achieve their objectives’.

        We cannot logically know what it means to be a man or a woman until we live in a society which is not fundamentally based on violent coercion.

        Or to be precise, in the current system we can only ever know what it means to be a man or a woman living in a fundamentally (and unnaturally) violent and coercive environment.

        I we swapped gender for race we could consider the difference between black people born into slavery, black people living into poverty in inner city slums, and black people born into loving families and provided with a decent start in life.

        Which is the most ‘authentic’ black person?

        I would have to say all of them. As men, as women, as races and as human beings we do not have a fixed nature. Human nature is not fixed, it is to adapt to the environment we find ourselves in.

        This couldn’t be more true of gender. When technology was rubbish and families and communities routinely starved to death the traditional gender roles were dictated NOT by oppressive men, but by the oppressive environment itself and our need to survive. Hence the strict division of labour within the marriage (and rigid concept of marriage before sex), the society which valued and protected women as nurturers and homemakers (even against their will) and treated men as disposable workers. These were all survival strategies, before all else.

        You cannot make sense of gender without first understanding the environment surrounding it.

      • Alright, you said a lot of things, please pardon me if I do not respond to all of them.

        I still think that much of what you are saying comes after my thoughts in the initial post. The entire point of my post is that I’m saying that I don’t care about the natural state of man or woman, I don’t think that the natural state is relevant to ethics. It still seems to me that you are now giving an account of what you think the ethical course of action is (which doesn’t contradict anything that I said in my initial post). I’m not particularly attached to the word ‘policy’. I concede that policy can probably be placed in a larger category of society recommendations, if that term is acceptable to you.

        That being said, I do think that I disagree with much of what you claim.

        I interpret you to be making the following points:
        1. You do not think that anyone should use force to dictate the actions of others (except, I assume, to protect oneself). I’m not sure if you are saying that they ‘shouldn’t’ or if you are saying ‘should not be allowed to’.

        2. We cannot understand gender until we leave the unnatural state of violence and power.

        3. We do not have a fixed nature

        For the first point, I’m curious about whether you think that removing regulations will pragmatically result in more happiness. This is possible, but I am not willing to concede it as a given. I’m inclined to think that there are pros and cons to either state (being a member of a state or not being a member), but generally I think the state is the better deal, and I would prefer to put my efforts towards improving a state instead of eliminating it (in other words, I think that it is generally a good think to centralize and regulate violence).

        I’m curious whether you think violence should be regulated (that is, should there be any institutions or structures in place to prevent violence, through violence if necessary).

        As you can probably tell from 2 and 3, I’m not entirely sure whether you think that gender has a ‘natural state’. You say that government is ‘unnatural’, and you seem to imply we cannot understand gender until we return to a natural state. At the same time, you say that gender does not have a fixed nature, which implies to me that there is no ‘true’ gender features to understand.

        To summarize my dispute: I do not think that we are obviously better off without government, and I am generally inclined to think that a social contract is a good move.

      • 1. “…You do not think that anyone should use force to dictate the actions of others (except, I assume, to protect oneself). I’m not sure if you are saying that they ‘shouldn’t’ or if you are saying ‘should not be allowed to’….”

        They amount to the same thing. Morality is just an idea. A law is just an idea backed by the willingness to use force. I object to the initiation of force (as distinct from self defence) on moral and practical grounds. I’m happy for anyone else (including you) to make a case in favour of initiating force. But if you make the claim that initiating force is a moral or desirable way to behave then you will have to accept other people initiating force against you is also a moral or desirable way for them to behave. I’m guessing you object to other people initiating force against you, therefore unless you are claiming to be a god or a king you must also accept that it is immoral for you to behave that way too. (Thus you cannot logically support the state who initiate force like it was going out of fashion).

        The point of morality is consistency and universality. If theft, rape, murder, assault or torture are to be classified as immoral then they must be immoral for everyone – otherwise what’s the point of defining them as immoral?

        A law can reflect universal moral rules ….. or a law can be an arbitrary (and immoral) command backed up by force. There is nothing about a law that makes it inherently moral. A law is only moral if it accurately reflects a moral rule, in which case there is really no need for laws, except as a useful way of formalising moral rules in a complex society full of complex interactions.

        If a law reflects universal morality then all who enforce it are behaving morally, whether or not they are wearing a blue costume. If a law violates a universal moral rule than it is simply a form of ‘formalised terrorism’ and wearing a blue costume cannot alter this.

        Governments and their laws generally do NOT enforce moral rules. They do the exact opposite. Governments, via laws, enforce their own monopoly on the right to VIOLATE moral rules. Most current laws prohibit everybody EXCEPT government from stealing property, committing murder, kidnapping, coercing, torturing, taking over the money supply by force, taking over education by force etc etc.

        Naturally, in order to create a monopoly on the legal and moral right to do these things a government must prevent (or deter) everybody else from engaging in those activities. But that is not the same as ‘enforcing morality’. A government does not ‘outlaw immoral behaviour’, a government ‘outlaws immoral behaviour for everybody but itself’. Big difference.

        A rapist who uses threats of violence (which we migh call ‘laws’) to ensure only he gets to rape the women of the village is not enforcing a moral rule against rape, neither is he protecting the women of the village from rape. But he IS stopping anyone else in the village from raping the women. This is where the confusion stems from.

        2. “…We cannot understand gender until we leave the unnatural state of violence and power….”

        Yes. Currently we can only understand how gender operates in a fundamentally violent and coercive system. Obviously a single mum with a young child is unlikely to build a cage in her back garden, buy a gun and use it to threaten everyone else to provide her with resources – threatening to put them in the cage if they refuse. But that is what millions of single mums on welfare are doing today, via the third party of government. A coercive and violent system encourages, or even compels, everyone in society to resort to coercion and violence… even if it against their nature.

        Without a coercive and violent society I’m sure we would come up with different ways to deal with poor single mums with children….. and women might also be more careful about who they get pregnant with too. I say this because in ordinary society single mums do not generally go around pointing guns at everyone other to get what we want. Nor do most people. It is against our nature to do so (for 99% of us anyway).

        3. “… We do not have a fixed nature…”

        Right. Our nature is to always adapt to our environment.

        “…For the first point, I’m curious about whether you think that removing regulations will pragmatically result in more happiness….”

        ‘Regulations’ (when referring to the state) is a euphemism for ‘the initiation of force’ (pointing guns at people and stealing their stuff). If regulations are voluntarily agreed then there’s no problem, assuming nobody else’s person or property is being violated by them.

        There is nothing about regulations which requires the initiation of force against people. If a regulated restaurant, bank or airline is desirable to the public then that creates a gap in the market for a regulatory body to provide that service, thus benefitting both consumer and service provider (as well as the regulatory service provider itself). A case of win-win-win.

        ‘Removing regulations’ (in reference to the state) just means no longer tolerating coercion and violence operating within any sector of regulation. And whether or not that will make people happy or sad is kind of irrelevant, is it not?

        I’m sure abolishing slavery because it was immoral made lots of cotton farmers very sad. Was that a valid argument for not abolishing slavery?

        The question is, if enough people decided violent and coercive regulation’ was a no-no, and voluntary regulation was a better idea, would you initiate force against them in order to continue to impose it?

        “….I’m inclined to think that there are pros and cons to either state (being a member of a state or not being a member), but generally I think the state is the better deal, and I would prefer to put my efforts towards improving a state instead of eliminating it (in other words, I think that it is generally a good think to centralize and regulate violence)….”

        Fine. That’s your opinion, but again, it’s kind of irrelevant. You are free to give up whatever rights and property you wish to whatever group of people you wish t give them up to. That’s your business. But if you support the state then you support the use of coercion, theft and violence being imposed against EVERYBODY – right at the very heart of society. Therefore you cannot logically ‘debate’ your position. By declaring support for the state you have already admitted you are willing to point a gun at me and at everybody else. The moment a gun is drawn in a debate the debate is always over.

        You are either for the initiation of force or you are against it. There can be no ‘debating’ the initiation of force by definition. The initiation of force is only ever used to override a debate. That’s the whole point.

        “….I’m curious whether you think violence should be regulated (that is, should there be any institutions or structures in place to prevent violence, through violence if necessary)….”

        Sure. I’m all for having defence agencies, police, security, dispute resolution firms etc. As with any other service provider, I would want to be able to draw up a very clear contract with them, and choose the most reputable (or cheapest, or friendliest or whatever) service provider in the market. Naturally, track record would play a major role in my decision. Any police/ security service with a history of beating up black people, or not solving crimes, or turning up late when called out or having busy lines is not going to get my business, or anybody else’s.

        Currently a government provides none of these things. State monopolised police services do not prevent coercion, violence and theft in society, they monopolises the state’s own right to coerce, steal and initiate force.

        If free market competition was allowed in these areas it would increase efficiency and innovation, drive down the cost, drive up quality and ensure that all disreputable service providers were driven out of (or to the bottom of) the market.

        ‘..You say that government is ‘unnatural’..”

        Yes of course. People do not generally go around pointing guns at other people to get what they want in life. Nor do they steal other people’s property on a regular basis. Overwhelmingly, people in society understand and accept that we all have equal inherent rights and that the only proper (and desirable) way to interact in society is voluntarily…. whether that is in business, in personal relationships or when riding the bus.

        Government is the ONLY group of people who claim the legal and moral right to initiate force and steal to get what they want. Thus, when measured against the rest of the population they are unnatural.

        “..you say that gender does not have a fixed nature, which implies to me that there is no ‘true’ gender features to understand..”

        OK let me put it this way….. we can say that gender, as a subset of our overall human nature, has a fixed state – but that state is like the fixed state of water at room temperature…… to be always fluid and adaptable to the environment, and also to be heavily influenced by a healthy or toxic upbringing (like water is affected by pollution or filtering).

        Human nature is heavily influenced by the genetic drive for survival. In men and women this survival instinct expresses itself in different ways, hence the difference between genders. We also have self awareness, social awareness, intelligence and a very sophisticated sense of identity and all of these also heavily influence how gender is expressed and understood (or mis-understood).

        Trying to study gender in a society controlled through violence and coercion is rather like trying to study behaviour in a room full of people, but only after you have opened a small hatch and pointed a gun at them.

        “…I do not think that we are obviously better off without government…”

        There is no such thing as government. Either you support the use of coercion, theft and violence or you do not. If you are not prepared to initiate force against me in person, then it is a contradiction to support a third party initiating force against me *on your behalf*. What name this group calls themselves (street gang, mafia, government or the sparkly unicorn club) is irrelevant.

        If you ‘vote’ for a political party you are supporting (via a third party) the initiation of force against me in furtherance of your own political objectives. And that makes you a terrorist by definition.

        “…. and I am generally inclined to think that a social contract is a good move….”

        There is no contract with a government, just as there was no contract between black people and their slave masters.

        ‘Social contract’ is an absurd phrase describing the absurd notion that just by being born it somehow means other people have the divine right to rule you by force.

      • I have two questions.

        First, do you think that you disagree with my initial post?

        Second, do you believe that if government (or, as I think you would call it, that group of violent oppressive people) was removed, that we would have better lives?

        For the second question, I’ll note my immediate caveat that it seems to me that in many cases the removal of government would not eliminate people exerting force upon each other.

  2. “..First, do you think that you disagree with my initial post?..”

    I agree that behaviour should be judged on its own merit (or demerit) and that the idea that gender determines behaviour can potentially lead to people using (exploiting) gender to excuse or justify immoral or just annoying behaviour.

    To an extent this already does happen, both consciously and unconsciously.

    Interesting side note, the pink/ blue convention for dressing girl/ boy babies used to be the other way around. Strange but true.

    “…Second, do you believe that if government (or, as I think you would call it, that group of violent oppressive people) was removed, that we would have better lives?..”

    1. There is no such thing as government. Governments do not act, only people act. A government is no more (or less) than the collective superstitious (ie irrational) belief that a group of ordinary people somehow have magical rights which the rest of us don’t have… such as the right to violently coerce others and steal their property.

    2. If you ‘removed’ government tomorrow, chaos would ensue and another form of government/ mafia (same thing) would eventually take over again to fill the power vacuum. This is because ‘removing government’ is merely removing the symptom, not the cause.

    One does not end slavery by just ‘removing’ the slave owners. Other slave owners obviously would just take their place. Neither does one end slavery by offering an alternative which will give everyone ‘better lives’. (Although higher moral standards always do result in better, healthier, happier lives for all). I mean, can you imagine the proposal?….. “OK listen up guys….. instead of using hundreds of black slaves to pick the cotton why don’t we set the slaves free and then hope someone invents a giant metal machine on wheels which will run on black goo sucked out of the ground to pick the cotton instead – no seriously, listen guys! – these machines will do the work of 100 men so the slaves can all go and get and education and jobs in the city”. As unbelievable as that proposal would have seemed back then, that what actually happened. Who knows how a society without a government might operate? Perhaps we’ll invent a way to pay for public services as and when we used them, using magic machines called ‘computers’ all connected together with bits of clever wire called ‘the internet’ 🙂

    In reality slavery was ended by making the MORAL case against owning other human beings like animals (against a brick wall of incomprehension and resistance), until enough people got it. Once enough people got it it became increasingly difficult to own slaves or advocate slavery or support slavery in any way. As with all moral progress the advancement of technology also helped to open up the way to more equality in society. The liberation of women was also largely the result of increases in technology which made the lives of women AND men a whole lot easier. Labour saving devices at home and new safer, more comfortable, largely indoor job opportunities outside the home (which did NOT involve working down mines, or ploughing fields, or fishing the open seas in wooden fishing boats) allowed women to become more economically independent.

    The same is true today. We could all pay for public services that we want using the internet, just as we do already do for a zillion other things. There is no longer any practical justification for centralised authority or administration today. Quite the opposite….. centralised provision and administration of ‘public services’ is hindering quality, choice, competition and efficiency – and that’s even assuming the goal of the rulers in government is to help society, which it is not.

    But primarily it is the MORAL argument against ‘rule by force’ which is also how we will evolve beyond statism. Once people accept the idea of applying universal morality (don’t hit, don’t steal) to EVERYONE there will be no need for any kind of ‘revolution’ ……. it will already have happened. I would compare it to being a teenager. When you are still making the transition from child to adult you complain about your ‘oppressive’ parents. You slam doors. You shout and swear at how unfair they are. But when you finally become an adult, you simply leave home and start living independently.

    ‘Happy statists’ love the illusion of a government and ‘angry protestors’ hate the illusion of a government. But they both believe their illusion is real so they both belong to the same religion. Only when the ‘god of government’ is exposed as an irrational belief system will we be able to evolve beyond this superstition which is causing so much confusion, destruction and dysfunction in the world.

    Before slavery was abolished nobody could imagine having a society without slavery…… but once it was abolished nobody could imagine having a society where slavery was accepted. This is the nature of change. Future generations will no doubt regard us (their recent ancestors) not only as immoral, backward and barbaric – but also insane. And they will be right.

    3. Society is ALREADY anarchic in most respects. How many times have you personally initiated force or theft in order to go about your daily life? Presumably you are OK about voting for ‘government’ to threaten me with being caged if I don’t pay for things that you want ….. but without the use of a third party of violence would you be prepared to threaten me in person?

    And if I was not swayed by your threats, would you be prepared to point a gun at me and lead me off to a cage you had assembled to punish humans with? I hope not. And if not, then I would suggest you already do not support statism, you only think you do. Once the coercive and violent nature of government is revealed most people would concede that they do not really advocate that kind of behaviour. Once the gun of the state is placed in YOUR hands, so to speak, government is revealed to be no different than any other mafia – just a lot more successful, that’s all.

    But even if you are willing to coerce me, in the absence of a government, how are you going to be able to pay for all of this violence, and my prolonged caging?

    I hope you agree that the whole thing is absurd. The vast majority of us do not interact this way in ordinary society. We understand that voluntary transactions and peaceful ‘win-win’ negotiations are the way to go….. not coercion, theft and violence. And we already use contracts and insurance to safeguard ourselves against the ever-present temptation for person A to oppress/ exploit/ deceive person B.

    Therefore I am not proposing anything new or radical or utopian. I am simply proposing we apply the SAME moral rules (and the same safeguards we sue against those tempted to violate those moral rules) to the people who call themselves ‘government’, that is all.

    “…For the second question, I’ll note my immediate caveat that it seems to me that in many cases the removal of government would not eliminate people exerting force upon each other…”

    Of course not. But in society we ALREADY recognise people who initiate force or steal as being crooks and we treat them accordingly. So what’s the problem?

    To be clear, what I’m talking about is not ‘removing government’. I’m talking about revoking (ie no longer recognising) government’s LEGAL RIGHT to initiate force against the rest of society. This would mean people in government, as well as people working for the government (police, teachers etc) as well as people currently being protected by government violence (owners of corporations etc) would all be bound by the same basic moral rules as the rest of us when it came to coercion, violence and theft.

    Without the public’s (assumed) consent to behave immorally without consequence these groups would suddenly start to think very carefully before attempting to violently coerce, steal. Is the average schoolteacher going to carry on forcing the population to pay his/ her salary at gunpoint when such behaviour is properly categorised as a form of terrorism? Somehow I don’t think so. Instead I think they are going to think “OMG I’d better be a better teacher from now on because my salary now depends on me keeping enough customers by actually providing a valuable service to children and their parents (who can switch to another school if they are not satisfied with my work)”

    And so without the legal right to steal our wealth all of these groups would have to join everyone else in the marketplace and start OFFERING SOMETHING OF VALUE in order to entice us to give them our hard earned cash.

    Now, it may well be that government controlled services like schools, healthcare, infrastructure, police, defence, transport etc are currently the best they can be, and are therefore able to compete in the market place and still attract customers. And if that is the case – great! But I would suggest a more likely scenario is that if government had to operate in the free marketplace they would be outcompeted in about 5 seconds flat in every area by entrepreneurs offering more innovative solutions and implementing them with a better work ethic.

    Violence, theft and coercion are very expensive ways to ‘run a business’- in terms of financial cost and risk (social and economic ostracism, injury, death etc). Violence, theft and coercion are *prohibitively* expensive in fact. The ONLY group able to operate in this way is government, because they are the only group who have managed to convince someone else ie you and me) to fund all of their violent, coercive and thieving activities. Without taxation and government debt (deferred taxation) there could be no wars. They is literally no way for them to be funded!

    And without governments there is really no incentive to invade and ‘conquor’ another country. A population which has rejected ‘rule by force’ and which does not pay taxes is of no value to any would-be Hitler or Buch or Blair figure. The whole point of conquering a country is to replace the previous rulers and take over the tax revenue. Trying to conquer a stateless society would be like trying to herd cats. The cost of attempting to steal their wealth or coerce them in any other way would far outweigh the potential gains.

    And so if your concern is evil people in society who wish to use coercion, violence and theft then, logically, you must be opposed to aiding those kinds of people in their objectives…… which means you must be opposed to statism – because statism just means legitimising and supporting the coercive and violent behaviour a small cabal who claim the right to rule everyone else by force.

    If rape is an ever present threat it cannot be helped or solved by legitimising rape for a select few in society. That is only ever going to make the problem much worse!

    If coercion, violence and theft is an ever present threat it also cannot be helped or solved by legitimising coercion, violence and theft for a select few in society. That is also only ever going to make the problem much worse! I mean, just look at the state of the world today. It is all boils down to our insane refusal to apply universal moral rules universally.

    • Alright. I think this conversation has leaped passed the starting point of gender into a completely different domain.

      I’m finding it difficult to respond to your posts because of their length, but I don’t think that our conversation is going to be very profitable because I think we fundamentally disagree about some of the facts of the matter. I’m not going to list them all, but I’ll note a few.

      “In reality slavery was ended by making the MORAL case against owning other human beings like animals (against a brick wall of incomprehension and resistance), until enough people got it.” – I do not think that it is obviously the case that you are right about this.. It MAY be the case you are right about this, but it could easily be that more pragmatic forces were present or dominant.

      “A law can reflect universal moral rules ….. or a law can be an arbitrary (and immoral) command backed up by force.” – It is not self-evident that this dichotomy is true. I believe that there are many existentialist, relativist, and utilitarians who would reject this proposed framing, for example.

      “Before slavery was abolished nobody could imagine having a society without slavery…… but once it was abolished nobody could imagine having a society where slavery was accepted. This is the nature of change. Future generations will no doubt regard us (their recent ancestors) not only as immoral, backward and barbaric – but also insane. And they will be right.” – You have not demonstrated that change is inevitably positive. It seems to me quite conceivable to imagine a future society where slavery is once again accepted.

      “I hope you agree that the whole thing is absurd. The vast majority of us do not interact this way in ordinary society. We understand that voluntary transactions and peaceful ‘win-win’ negotiations are the way to go….. not coercion, theft and violence.” – As much as I wish I could say otherwise, I do not think that history or game theory has demonstrated our universal inclination towards cooperation – we certainly are capable of cooperating, but I think it would be an extreme oversight to neglect the average persons capability for violence.

      That I am inclined to disagree does not make you wrong, of course. I just think that a lot of the claims you make are less self-evident then you think. I feel that many of your points are worth entire conversations in themselves, and since you are building a very large argument we would need to cover each in a very focused manner before we could profitably continue with the larger picture. I am willing to continue the conversation, but if you would like to continue it I would recommend we talk about smaller chunks, otherwise I do not think I can offer meaningful responses.

      • You are right about slavery. I was over simplifying. Technology and morality seem to work hand in hand. As we become more technologically advanced (and intellectually enlightened overall) this sets us up to increase our moral standards too. I would even say that technological advances REQUIRE us to increase our moral standards, and to not do so is a recipe for disaster.

        When communities routinely starved due to their rubbish technology of the time there was no real possibility to apply morality to include animals (it barely applied to people!). Animals were generally treated like machines and worked to death. But as technology started to make animals less central to our survival we were able to extend morality to include their fair treatment as well. Thee days we are so productive we go around trying to make life better for animals we have never even met before 🙂

        I guess what I meant to say was that although technology helped to set things up to where slavery could be ended, it was the moral argument that finally persuaded people it had to be abolished. Technology builds the soap box from which we can make the moral argument, as it were.

        “…It is not self-evident that this dichotomy is true…”

        I don’t see how it can’t be true. A law is just a command backed up by the willingness to use force to enFORCE it. If you take any moral rule and compare it to any law the two will either jibe or they will be conflicting. Therefore there is nothing inherently moral about ‘laws’, or obeying them. That is to say, if you make it law to hand over Jews, Gypsies and gays so they can be sent to the prison camps, the fact that this is now law does not make it moral. To know whether or not a law demanding Jews etc be rounded up and imprisoned is moral or immoral we must compare it to moral principles. You can’t just say “Well it’s a law so it can’t possibly be immoral”.

        Therefore moral principles must be placed ABOVE laws (and governments), assuming our goal is some sort of civilised society (which is what all governments claim is their raison d’etre).

        AND YET we are all trained, not least in government schools, that to disobey a law is *always* immoral, implying that all laws (and all governments) are automatically moral / have moral authority – even when they are blatantly behaving immorally, or demanding that we behave immorally, such as the previous example.

        In isolation the idea of placing morality above laws makes total sense and doesn’t seem to be a big deal. But when you think about it, it’s revolutionary. It means whenever a government creates a law nobody is obliged to obey it, or enforce it, until they’ve checked it against basic moral principles. It means the people can refuse to obey any law on the grounds that it is immoral, and that if the law is indeed immoral the government must accept this reason (or else expose itself as an immoral institution).

        The (conflicting) relationship between laws and morality is the elephant in the room of all statists systems. And the whole circus of ‘politics’ and the ridiculously language of political speak (full of euphemisms and emotionally triggering phrases) is basically an attempt to cover up the fact that all governments claim the moral high ground, and claim to be a moral authority, yet no government can ever refer directly to ACTUAL moral principles (theft is immoral, coercion is immoral, murder is immoral, torture is immoral etc) because in reality governments blatantly violate even the most basic ‘no-brainer’ moral principles in everything they do …… and they demand (via ‘laws’) that we do too.

        Hence the constant need to keep us distracted with outside threats of all kinds – real, imaginary, staged or based in a grain of truth but massively overhyped (global warming, global terrorism, youth crime, crazed school shooters etc).

        “..You have not demonstrated that change is inevitably positive…”

        I think it’s pretty obvious that ending overt slavery is positive. I don’t see how you (or anyone) could argue otherwise.

        “…As much as I wish I could say otherwise, I do not think that history or game theory has demonstrated our universal inclination towards cooperation – we certainly are capable of cooperating, but I think it would be an extreme oversight to neglect the average persons capability for violence….”

        I’m not neglecting that, I’m just pointing out that any ‘progress’ we have achieved as a species has always achieved through voluntary peaceful exchange, collaboration etc. The more free a society is the more productive and wealthy it becomes, and the more intellectually and morally enlightened it becomes and the more collaborative, peaceful and harmonious it becomes.

        Human nature is above all else adaptable to the environment and influenced by upbringing. The freer society is the more it draws out our capacity to promote freedom, and vice versa. When we are raised violently and immorally and fed irrational propaganda by our parents and the state we are inclined more towards violence, immorality and irrationality. We are no different to dogs really. If you beat your puppy and treat it inconsistently (irrationally) and abusively you will end up with a messed up dog which is a complete nightmare to be around and potentially vicious.

        Sorry I’ve written too much again 😦

      • Too much. Choose the topic that you want to focus on. Do you want to talk about the march of progress? Do you want to talk about the nature of morality? There is just too much here for us to have a meaningful structured conversation. There are a lot of topics you’ve brought up, and I would be inclined to start with the nature of morality itself. However, if you want to talk about another of the topics you’ve brought up, we can examine something else.

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